COUNCIL bosses have warned that promised funding to allow councils to employ hundreds of new teachers falls short of what is needed – labelling the level of funding “a disappointment” and a "considerable roadblock" to schools re-opening.

Education Secretary John Swinney has announced that £50 million of Scottish Government funding will permit local authorities to employ around 850 teachers and 200 support staff to assist with schools re-opening – along with £20 million to help with other costs in preparing classrooms to restart lessons.

Mr Swinney said that he expected the “vast majority” of new staff will be in place by September but some may not be able to begin until October.

He added: “While this funding should provide local authorities with the assurance they require to progress plans immediately, we will continue to work with Cosla to understand the additional costs associated with the school re-opening guidance that each local authority is facing, and how these can be addressed alongside any loss of learning.”

The Education Secretary also announced that secondary schools will be asked to “take a practical approach to maintaining distancing between pupils where possible” including managing the flow of pupils and staff within schools and adjusting the layout of classrooms - but not putting their ability to re-open full time from August 11 at risk.

Dedicated school transport will be seen as “an extension of the school estate”, meaning no social distancing between pupils will be needed, Mr Swinney added.

READ MORE: Scottish secondary schools will be told to enforce pupil social distancing 'where possible'

The Scottish Government is drawing up plans for a “targeted enhanced surveillance programme” to be in place as part of measures to control any outbreaks that might occur, while quick access to testing is also set to be made available.

The umbrella organisation for Scottish councils, Cosla, has vented its frustration at the level of funding handed over, warning that Scotland’s local authorities face a budget gap of half a billion pounds, even before the costs of re-opening schools are taken into account.

In a joint statement, Cosla resources spokesperson, Gail Macgregor, and children and young people spokesperson, Stephen McCabe, who co-chairs the Scottish Government’s education recovery group, labelled the amount  of funding a "considerable roadblock" to schools being able to re-open safely next month.

They said: “Local government’s number one priority is the safe return to education next month. We have sought to work closely with the Scottish Government, trade unions and parental organisations through the Covid-19 education recovery group to agree an approach which meets the needs of all involved in supporting children and young people during the pandemic.

“Even with the welcome additional financial support from the Scottish Government we have received to date, councils are facing a budget gap of over £500 million for 2020/21 before the additional costs of a safe return to school are taken into account.”

READ MORE: Hundreds of new teachers to be employed to help Scottish schools re-open next month

They added: “That is why the Deputy First Minister’s commitment of just £20 million to support the return of schools is a disappointment.

“We are currently awaiting updated guidance as such it is not clear at this time what the additional costs for classroom cleaning, supporting vulnerable pupils, providing school meals, school transport and PPE are, or if vital resources can be found before schools return.

"The announcement throws up a considerable roadblock on the progress towards schools re-opening safely, and presents significant additional financial risks for councils.

“Whilst we are pleased we are close to agreement with the Scottish Government on an additional £50 million to be invested in teachers and classroom support, priority must also be given to ensuring a safe, clean environment for all staff and pupils to work in.

“However, we remain willing to work with the Scottish Government on this issue to make sure that we protect and support the health and wellbeing of Scotland’s children and young people and our staff when they return to school.”

Scotland’s largest teachers’ union, the EIS, has also pleaded for more cash to be handed over to education officials and warned over the lack of time to employ new recruits with schools set to re-open in less than three weeks’ time.

EIS general secretary, Larry Flanagan, said: “The EIS is clear that more will be needed to ensure that all young people receive the support they require to recover from the impact of the school shutdown and, as well as urging the Scottish Government to consider additional funding, we would encourage local authorities to use some of the flexibility open to them around attainment challenge funding and the pre-allocated monies for the now suspended expansion of pre-5 entitlement to further boost school staffing.

“Being away from the school environment for such a prolonged period will have had a detrimental impact on many young people’s education. Supporting recovery from this traumatic experience must be the top priority for all in Scottish education.”

READ MORE: Scottish schools should employ 'every qualified teacher in the country' ahead of schools re-opening

He added: "Clearly, with less than three weeks until schools are set to re-open, it is vital that local authorities act quickly to ensure that the promised additional teachers and support staff are recruited prior to the start of term.

“It also remains essential that the process of re-opening schools is managed safely, with updated risk assessments to be carried out and all necessary mitigations – such as enhanced cleaning regimens, adequate ventilation and facilities for regular hand-washing – to be in place in all schools prior to them re-opening.”

Conservative MSPs have criticised the Scottish Government’s failure to set in stone the August 11 return date – with a final decision instead to be announced on July 30.

Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Jamie Greene said: “It’s completely unacceptable that, just a few weeks from the supposed reopening, parents still have no certainty over plans.

“Parents are furious and bewildered as to why pubs, restaurants and shops are all open, yet there’s still no final decision on schools.

READ MORE: Five things we learned about Scottish schools re-opening from John Swinney’s statement

“John Swinney could easily have provided that much-needed certainty by taking a stand and making a decision on schools already.

“Instead he’s keeping parents, pupils and teachers on tenterhooks by refusing to give the green light until July 30, leaving no time at all to deal with whatever decision is made.”

That message has been backed up by social media campaigners who have called for parents to be given certainty over the re-opening timescale.

Us for Them Scotland, which has more than 8,000 members, has raised fears some parts of Scotland could see schools re-open and others could remain closed – pointing to Mr Swinney says that “some schools and local authorities may phase children back in to school where necessary to provide assurance on safety”.

He added that the controversial blended learning plans remain “an essential contingency” and could be rolled out at a local, regional or national level if required.

Johannah Bisset, an organiser for Us for Them Scotland, said: “There were some extremely positive points in John Swinney’s statement today, and we welcome the fact everything looks set for an August 11 return.

“But parents need to know that for sure now, not less than a fortnight before it happens.

“Many parents need to plan shifts, organise childcare and plan their lives generally to accommodate whatever decision the Scottish Government makes.

“These are decisions which should have been made already, and it’s disappointing that those parents will have to wait longer for certainty.

“We are also worried at the suggestion that some councils may not return to normal and instead go for the phased approach which was so heavily criticised before.

“We would like to see ministers take control of the situation and ensure schools return on August 11, irrespective of where in the country they are.”

"Ultimately, on balance of risk, schools need to open and stay open."